PILOT MOUNTAIN — The Pilot Mountain Board of Commissioners voted Monday night to move forward with plans to legally seize land along Old U.S. 52 necessary to build a water system between the town and Mount Airy.
“We have sent out two rounds of letters now to the property owners along Old U.S. 52,” said Town Manager Michael Boaz.
“When the project was originally designed, we assumed that the DOT (N.C. Department of Transportation) had rights of way for properties along Old 52. They don’t. They maintain only from edge of pavement to edge of pavement.”
“In order for us to install a water line,” the town manager explained, “we need to get an easement from a hundred and some odd property owners along that roadway. We’ve gotten half of them.”
“What is attached to this,” he said, holding up a document, “are a number of resolutions that would allow Ed (Town Attorney Ed Woltz) to start the process of condemnation on all the ones that aren’t signed.”
Boaz explained that the ball needs to get rolling as the project has been stalled for a while.
“The engineers and I intend for this to go to bid sometime in September,” he said. Then the town will be ready to do the bid award by the start of November at that next commissioners’ meeting.
“Sometime, first of the year we would like to be able to issue a notice to proceed to the contractor. We obviously can’t do that if we don’t own all the rights of way.”
Hopefully, the town manager said, “the people who haven’t responded to either of my letters will respond to Ed’s letter, and we’ll be able to reach an agreement — and not actually have to condemn these.”
According to N.C. General Statutes, “condemnation means the procedure prescribed by law for exercising the power of eminent domain.” And then it explains, “Eminent domain means the power to divest right, title or interest from the owner of the property and vest it in the possessor of the power against the will of the owner, upon payment of just compensation for the right, title or interest divested.”
Boaz said, “I know that we don’t like eminent domain; nobody wants to do eminent domain, but this is what we have selected as the future of our water system.”
This was a reference to a past decision by the town board between whether to invest heavily in attempting to refurbish the town’s existing water treatment plant or to purchase treated water from the city of Mount Airy.
Since Pilot chose to hook onto Mount Airy’s water supply, a pathway for the water main is necessary.
“We have $4 million in funding from the state to do this,” said Boaz. “It’s $2 million as grants, $2 million as zero-percent interest loan, and if you guys will remember, then Surry County and the city of Mount Airy are each paying one-third of that debt (on the $2 million loan).
“So our customers are building a $4 million project for $650,000 of local money. Which is a deal that when the board voted on this a year or two ago, it was impossible to walk away from.”
In order to move forward, however, the town has to have the easements.
Commissioner Donna Kiger asked if the town had been offering the property owners free connection to the water line when it is finished.
Boaz said yes, the folks had been offered a waived tap fee in exchange for running the line along the edge of the road. Some folks agreed to this, and some agreed to a simple cash payout offered from the town based on the linear feet of road frontage for the parcel.
Commissioner Scott Needham said he was trying to picture where the easements are needed. Is it off Cook School Road that is the problem?
Take that exit, cross the bridge over U.S. 52 and turn right to go north on Old 52, explained the town manager. Most of the needed easements are on the east side of the road going toward Holly Springs.
How big is this strip of land needed?
“It’s 15 feet from the edge of pavement for the permanent easement and then 5 feet for temporary construction easement,” Boaz stated.
Mayor Evan Cockerham said that for him, getting this project going is important because it will “get our books straight.” The town has already spent much of its own money on this endeavor, but hasn’t gotten any of that grant funding yet because the work hasn’t commenced.
Once the project is started, the town can get reimbursed for some of its expenses, and that reimbursement can then be channeled into supporting other town work.
“Just so you know,” Boaz added, ” that number is about $310,000 to date that we’ve spent that the state is holding for us.”
Looking at how one of the documents was worded, Commissioner Kim Quinn asked if the agreement was saying that as part of the condemnation that the town would be getting these properties access to the water line and a usage meter box.
Commissioner Donna Kiger clarified that the easement becomes part of the property, so even if the owner sells the land to someone else, the easement remains.
“If they ever sell the property or if they ever come back and say they want a meter,” said Kiger, “we’ve got the easement, we can put the meter in there.”
“I’m not a lawyer, but say the gas company wanted to come through and put a gas line in, we could probably give them an encroachment agreement into our easement area, and they wouldn’t have to go to the property guys,” said Boaz.
After some discussion, the board voted in favor of beginning the condemnation proceedings for the water line easements.
• In other board news, Mayor Cockerham reminded the commissioners that Town Hall will be a site for early voting for those worried about getting into large crowds on election day.
The voting site will be open weekdays from Oct. 15-31.
Boaz added that people can also request an absentee ballot to vote by mail. Then, they can track the ballot online to be sure it gets counted.
And on the subject of quick paperwork, Boaz pointed out that the deadline is approaching for the end of the 2020 census. It is the law but it also means a lot for getting state and federal funds to Pilot.
Reach Jeff at 415-4692.